Metro Weekly

“Star Trek” is All the Religion I Need

Star Trek offers so much of what people turn to religion for -- hope, morality plays, aspirational visions of paradise.

Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror

It’s a little late, but still seasonal. Happy First Contact Day! This Star Trek holiday, April 5, commemorates the fictional arrival of extraterrestrial aliens in 2063. I may have enjoyed a really lovely Easter brunch this year, amid Holi and Ramadan/Eid al-Fitr, and Passover barely more than a week away, but I’m no Christian, nor any of the other recognized options.

My fantastical faith, however, has many of the traditional trappings. You want a savior to be tested in the desert? As third officer on a Pan Am flight from Karachi to Istanbul in 1947, Gene Roddenberry, who later created Star Trek, was the ranking officer to survive that ill-fated flight’s crash landing in the Syrian desert.

David Alexander’s 1995 biography details Roddenberry moving to comfort a screaming passenger just before the crash, leaving him unbelted upon impact, and suffering two broken ribs as a result. Pan Am dubbed that plane Clipper Eclipse, peppering the story with a pinch of celestial spice.

The Saint Lucy story also adds so much to doctrine, for it was the blessed Lucille Ball who saved Star Trek via her Desilu Productions. She was the Hollywood honcho who recognized the show’s value, even if, initially, she reportedly thought the show was about a bunch of USO entertainers in World War II.

How about an apostle enlisted by a holy adherent to carry a righteous burden? The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic, happenstance exhortation to Nichelle Nichols that she remain on Star Trek as a beacon of Black excellence, just hours after she’d advised Roddenberry that Season 1 would be her last, gives me goosebumps.

While my form of religion has my head in the heavens, back on Earth things got pretty ugly on Easter. All it took was for this floating holiday to land on March 31, International Transgender Day of Visibility.

“On Transgender Day of Visibility, we honor the extraordinary courage and contributions of transgender Americans and reaffirm our Nation’s commitment to forming a more perfect Union — where all people are created equal and treated equally throughout their lives,” begins President Biden’s beautiful declaration marking the day.

If only it could have been received by The Deplorables in the spirit in which it was offered.

House Speaker Mike Johnson Xitted back, “The Biden White House has betrayed the central tenet of Easter — which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Banning sacred truth and tradition — while at the same time proclaiming Easter Sunday as ‘Transgender Day’ – is outrageous and abhorrent. The American people are taking note.”

The Trump campaign, via its press secretary, Karoline Leavitt, demanded an apology “to the millions of Catholics and Christians across America who believe tomorrow is for one celebration only – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Never mind that Catholics are Christians, or that Biden is Catholic. The statement was cuckoobananas to the degree that it erroneously accused the Biden Administration of crafting a policy to quash the kiddies’ fervent desires to Jesus-up their Easter eggs for the White House roll. Or something like that.

The Deplorables, such as Johnson and Leavitt, bring me to another ring of the Star Trek universe. Essentially, it’s Space Hell. Behold, the Mirror Universe. This parallel universe of pain and cruelty debuted in the 1967 episode, “Mirror, Mirror.” The captain, Uhura, Dr. McCoy and Scotty are accidentally transported into this realm where military officers advance by murdering their superiors, and torture is the motivator of choice.

This sad setting has since appeared across the franchise, even depicting a variation of First Contact Day. In this retelling, the humans don’t welcome the Vulcans, instead killing them and looting their ship for technology, allowing humanity to take its first steps toward brutally conquering the known universe in the name of the Terran Empire.

Whenever I pass the west side of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, I imagine what pieces of our universe already resemble that oppressive hellscape, where sentient alien slaves eventually end up on the menu. It’s because that’s where I routinely pass Alexander Calder’s menacing “Gwenfritz” sculpture.

Sure, it’s a modernist showpiece, but to me it looks like a pointy, black-steel representation of stinging torment. In the Mirror Universe, I reckon most public art would resemble “Gwenfritz.” And the imperial apparatchiki would resemble The Deplorables.

Star Trek, as art, imitates life and there is plenty of that Mirror Universe existing quite comfortably within our own. There is also beauty, compassion, goodness, and hope, of which I am reminded on First Contact Day. Surely, I am not alone, as there are threads in so many online corners dedicated to “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism,” a cute riff on Arron Bastani’s 2019 book, Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

As subversive as that title may seem to some, Star Trek itself is subversive. Beyond Uhuru and Kirk’s scandalous 1968 kiss, the series presents notions I support, like a global government. (Civilizations that haven’t achieved planetary government are regarded as too primitive to join the cool kids’ Federation of Planets.) Technology has erased want, so there’s no money. At least, not among humanity. Queer characters abound. And Stacey Abrams’s 2022 Star Trek: Discovery cameo as the president of Earth was glorious, and absolutely triggered some on the right.

Star Trek is not a religion, but it does offer so much of what people turn to religion for — hope, morality plays, aspirational visions of paradise. Or, at least what they were turning to religion for, as the Public Religion Research Institute’s latest polling tells us both that, “‘Unaffiliated’ is the only major religious category experiencing growth,” and that nearly half of those who left their religion “cited negative teaching about or treatment of gay and lesbian people as an important factor in their choice to disaffiliate.”

So, again, Happy First Contact Day. Amen!

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at


Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!